If you missed the Introduction to this 12-part blog series, here’s a quick run down. In February 2016, my beloved horse Jove died. He was my best friend and my teacher, and he helped change many people’s lives. To honor his memory and teachings, I am writing this series,  Lessons from Jove.  You can read the introduction to the series here.

Unconditional love is something that we all want, but it’s common to be confused about what it really is… Partly because we so rarely see it modeled for us.

It doesn’t, for example, involve wanting to “fix” or “heal” someone else’s stuff. It doesn’t involve wanting to make them see the world in a different way, make them stop being angry, or even make them take better care of themselves. That’s conditional love.

Unconditional love means loving and welcoming ALL the parts of someone… even the parts that feel uncomfortable for you to have to deal with.

If you’ve struggled with unconditionally receiving love, you may believe on some level that you are incapable of it, or that you don’t deserve it. Perhaps you believe on some level that only God, enlightened masters, or pets are capable of such love.

My horse Jove was a master at teaching people (myself included) what unconditional love is, and what it looks and feels like.

Clients would often remark, after a session with Jove, that he allowed them to feel unconditionally loved for the very first time. They didn’t feel judged in his presence, or lacking in any way. They didn’t feel that he was trying to fix them or change them. He wasn’t holding anything over their head, or refusing to let something from the past go… like the time ten minutes earlier when they tried to physically force him to do something he didn’t want to do.

He was there with them, responding and interacting based on an energetic signature of their relationship in that very moment. He was paying attention to their requests. He was acknowledging how they felt and holding space for them to experience whatever was needed for their present moment and for their future. He was an active participant.

When working with Jove, he was fine with being asked to do things, but you had to ask him clearly and your energy had to be right. It needed to be an invitation and not a demand. He didn’t respond all that well to demands, and really, nobody does. AmIright?

On a personal level, he taught me to go with the flow and appreciate what I was being offered, instead of getting angry that my expectations weren’t being met. When I adopted Jove, he had many health problems and trust issues and I had to learn how to love and care for him even when I couldn’t do the things I expected to be able to do with a horse… like riding him.

This is huge when it comes to unconditional love, and translated directly into my relationships with the people in my life. I could feel a distinct difference in the way I dealt with little irritations and foibles with my husband in particular.

Instead of always being on the lookout for any perceived flaw in his behavior, or being highly sensitive when I found them, I began looking instead for examples of our being on the same team. My tendency to nitpick and get frustrated with his “bad habits” started to fade away. I began to notice all the many things he did for me, for us, for our family each and every day.

Any relationship will have its highs and lows. When you commit to a relationship where you seek to unconditionally love one another, that means accepting your partner’s bad moods, finding the value in their flaws, and not blaming them for your money issues.

You can love someone no matter what external conditions exist in your relationship (that’s the whole “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer” part of traditional wedding vows) without letting them hurt you. That’s where really clear boundaries come into play.

However, unconditionally loving someone is NOT the same thing as putting up with mistreatment or abuse. Sometimes the most loving option in those cases is to let them go.

And there are other times, aside from mistreatment, when it’s also unconditionally loving to let someone go.

In the case with Jove, I made the choice to literally let him go from the physical plane, not because he had betrayed me in some physical way but because he was in pain. If I was confused about unconditional love I may have thought: I need to do whatever I can to keep him here. But that wasn’t what felt like the truest expression of that unconditional love.

At the end of the day, before you can either give or receive unconditional love to another, you have to unconditionally love yourself. You must honor and respect and cherish yourself, your needs, wants, and boundaries, first and foremost.

If you skip that all-important step, you will never truly experience the kind of peaceful, happy relationship that you are looking for, because you can’t have what you aren’t aligned with. That’s one of those universal laws that we all work within — whether we know about it or not.

When you come to the place of fiercely loving yourself without condition… you will — with absolute certainty — attract others who treat you the same way.

This is the last official entry in my Lessons from Jove series. Thank you for being with me. Though this particular leg of the journey is complete, you are still invited to subscribe here so we can stay connected… I’ve got lots of exciting new adventures just around the corner and I want you to join me!